One offers, the other demands.
One smiles, the other grimaces.
One is silent, the other assaults your ears.
One of them has created a tableau for your viewing pleasure, the other borrows red and gold roosters and pokes them to perform until she tires of caring for them a few days later.
I stop to look at the assemblage he has fashioned on the sidewalk.
Très créatif, I say, très surréaliste.
He smiles shyly, extends his paper cup.
I usually carry change in my pockets for the homeless. But I've just spent the last coin. I walk on, inspect the office chairs in a shop window. The least costs thirty times the amount that would buy him a meal.
I return, ask him permission to photograph his creation. His eyes shine, yes.
Et vous aussi?
He nods yes.
I put a five Euro bill in his cup, enough for dinner.
He asks me where I’m from.
Les États-Unis, I say. Mais je vis ici maintenant.
I’d like to ask him where he is from, how did he come to Paris, did he fight in a war? but he barely speaks French. I settle for, Et vous?
Bulgarie, he says.
His head is covered in flowers instead of hair, his face round with a silver beard, he might be in his 60s. You can see his spirit shine in his creation, you can see it in his eyes.
* * * * *
I never give her money. I can’t. She is so aggressive it hurts to pass her on Blvd. Saint-Germain. She sits on the sidewalk, skirts puddled around her, yelling at everyone who passes.
Bonjour Madame! Bonjour Monsieur! As people approach, her voice rises in volume.
Most people ignore her. She cuts their backs with her sarcastic Bravo, Madame! Bravo, Monsieur!
She is full of energy, a manipulative actress. Swift changes pass over her face like clouds across an orangey moon—hopeful, self-pitying, grotesque, furious, bitter.
I fantasize saying gently to her, If you want to receive more money, try being less aggressive. But I’ve learned from experience that it’s a mistake to speak frankly with narcissists. They are only interested in looking into their own mirrors. No light comes from her. She doesn’t care if your arms are loaded high with fruit and dry cleaning. Doesn’t notice if you are deep in conversation with someone else. She is pure “Moi! Moi! Moi!”
Very few people stop.